Samuel Prout, Painter in Water-Colours

September 26, 2014 at 4:18 pm (history, news, people, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , )

Seven years ago I spent two months transcribing a MASS of letters and diaries. Back then cameras weren’t allowed in archives – and what I could transcribe is all I came away with.

I’ve written about some of the divergent handwriting specimens I’ve had to decipher (mainly, the four Smith sisters of Erle Stoke Park); so it is NO surprise to see that I gave up on one letter (extracting from it about six sentences only) because the writing was “so tiny”.

That writer was Fanny Smith (later: Fanny Seymour, wife of the Rev. Richard Seymour of Kinwarton).

Having a photo of this cramped epistle, I *finally* transcribed it in total last night.

And from the pen strokes emerged this DELIGHTFUL tale of Fanny and her love of drawing and (by dint of this story) watercolor painting. Fanny’s letter is addressed to her sister, Emma Austen:

I have corresponded with Mr Prout from whom I had rather an ambiguous answer about teaching after the Water Color Exhibition opened …. {Spencer Smith, Fanny and Emma’s brother, then went to see Mr Prout} he said he was much engaged with the 2d vol. of the landscape annual & jumped at the idea of my having been in Italy, hoping I could furnish him with some sketches, Spencer said he had a sister who had a great many italian views, he [Prout] begged leave to call some morning & see them, & we thought we should like him to see your drawings…. Mr Prout spent the whole morning here looking at them, & expressed the most unbounded admiration for them…. I hope now you feel properly flattered, & conceive my being out with Augusta & Henry the whole time he was here, in furniture shops.

prout_1831Poor Fanny! there’s the revered teacher, in her own home — looking at her sister’s work (by her own invitation, granted), but made worse by the fact that she wasn’t even there — she’d been shopping with the newly-wedded Augusta and Henry Wilder!

So I simply HAD to find out more about “Mr Prout”. I believe he must have been Samuel Prout (1783-1852), described as one of the MASTERS among the British Watercolorists – and (by the date of this letter, March 1830) the Painter in Water-Colours-in-Ordinary to King George IV.

Initially, I had GREAT trouble with this person’s name – Pront? was one guess. So might I, in earlier days, have come across this name and guessed (incorrectly)? – I’ll have to look among the letters and diary entries. So many possibilities: Did Fanny finally get to have the lessons she so clearly yearned for? Did she get overshadowed by Emma’s (perhaps better?) Italian sketches? Did any of the Smith girls have their sketches exhibited or published??? Now there’s an enticing thought!

There are sketches belonging to Fanny in the Bodleian; but none are watercolors (pencil sketches only). A new source DOES indeed claim to have an album of watercolor works and  the current thought is that the items (lotta letters) may once have been in Fanny’s possession – certainly the letters I’ve so far seen are mostly addressed to Fanny. So maybe some of the visual material is actually by her. That would certainly be nice, and the many people who have become interested in Fanny’s unique life will be made happy.

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Monsieur d’Eon is a Woman

September 17, 2014 at 12:08 pm (books, portraits and paintings) (, , , )

Yesterday, searching for information on a ship of the line toured by the young ladies from Erle Stoke Park — HMS St. George (90 guns) and those who sailed on her in 1792, I came across the most arresting portrait, in oils, of a very mannish-looking woman.

Was the sitter who I thought?

Indeed!  a genuine portrait of le Chevalier d’Eon!

Chevalier d'Eon

The blog post I found is a couple years old, and tells the story of art dealer Philip Mould “uncovering and identifying” the sitter. Evidently the National Portrait Gallery snapped it up.

Frankly, how could anyone mistake the sitter – d’Eon was my first thought when the image popped up on my screen.

To understand the full d’Eon story, I refer Two Teens in the Time of Austen‘s readers to a biography by Gary Kates, Monseiur d’Eon is a Woman: A Tale of Political Intrigue and Sexual Masquerade.

kates_deon

I remember buying this book like it was yesterday (alas: more like 2001! assuming it was newly out in paperback).

I was visiting Dartmouth College, and going to Hanover ALWAYS meant a visit to the delightful Dartmouth Bookstore (now – alack!! – nothing more than another Barnes & Noble). I always searched a couple of sections: history (mainly Britain; France; Austria); biography; travel; and remaindered books in the back of the basement. I still remember where these departments used to be located!

D’Eon must have been in the history section (France), or maybe Gender Studies. I had gone down to New Hampshire by myself that day, and the sun was shining gloriously – I pulled into a park area near the river and hurriedly unwrapped the book from its bag, to look my treasure over more carefully. I had never heard of Charles d’Eon de Beaumont. I’ve pulled the book off the shelf again, and will have to give it a look-through, if not a re-read — now that I know what she looked like.

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Sir Michael Seymour – father & son

September 10, 2014 at 11:52 pm (history, jane austen, people, portraits and paintings) (, , , , , , )

In the “Smith & Gosling” family it is often DIFFICULT to differentiate the generations: so many similar (SAME) Names!

As is the case here, with Rear-Admiral Sir Michael Seymour (1st baronet):

and his third son, Admiral Sir Michael Seymour, GCB:

seymour_michael-son

Richard Seymour speaks of his father with such great affection and attention to detail in the Memoir of Rear Admiral Sir Michael Seymour, Bart, K.C.B. that I leave it to him to tell you about Sir Michael “the father”, as I call him.

It’s Richard’s brother, Sir Michael the son, that I want to say a few words about tonight.

Michael grabs my attention because he married Dora Knighton – daughter of Sir William Knighton, a confident of the Prince of Wales/George IV. Richard writes of this cousin, often distinguishing her from his sister Dora (yes, there were TWO Dora Seymours!) by referring to her as “Dora K.” She is a sweet-faced young lady in the portrait of her by Linnell. Dora (Knighton) Seymour interests me intensely! But it’s her husband that I find more information about.

An item readers of Two Teens in the Time of Austen will be surprised to hear: Captain Michael Seymour served under Vice-Admiral Sir Francis Austen, Jane’s brother. See this inquiry into the service details of HMS Vindictive.

Michael was a delightful artist, and we find some of his work online:

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Viaggio in Sicilia: Meet Lord Compton

July 26, 2014 at 1:59 pm (books, europe, places, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , )

What a FABULOUS *FIND*!!

The ‘miracle’ took place in the middle of the night, a couple of nights ago when I unearthed a RECENT exhibition of sketches done by Spencer, Lord Compton c1823. His sketchbook, in the hands of the Fondazione Sicilia, has been “conserved” and “preserved” and the drawings exhibited in Fall 2013 and Spring 2014:

viaggio4 The exhibition spawned a book and two informative (especially if you speak Italian) YouTube videos – including one showing the sketch book in its entirety (which has no soundtrack at all). viaggio3

The second video (en Italiano) gives glimpses of the condition of the original sketch book, sketches, and their subsequent exhibition.

viaggio2 viaggio1

Spencer Compton, cousin to Emma and brother to Lady Elizabeth Compton (later Lady Elizabeth Dickins) spent many years in Italy with his wife, the former Margaret Douglas Maclean Clephane. Spencer became the second Marquess of Northampton, following his father’s death in 1828.

heyer_cover

A “romantic figure” in this Raeburn portrait (painted in the era of his sketch book), Spencer Lord Compton graced the cover of this Georgette Heyer reprint recently.

viaggio5partial legend from one sketch, in Spencer’s hand-writing

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William Heathcote of Hursley Park

July 19, 2014 at 12:54 pm (history, jane austen, people, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , )

Always searching for more, I’ve come across this ENCHANTING portrait at the Metropolitan Museum of Art – which features a cherubic William Heathcote (later the 5th baronet), with his cousins, painted by William Owen c1803.

wm heathcoteThe museum’s write-up about the painting is fascinating: for it proves how wrong a catalogue attribution sometimes can be! The baby in the quartet was, in 1938, thought to be William (born in 1801). This then meant that the children surrounding the baby were all little girls… When you click on the picture to see the ENTIRE portrait (it will take you to the Met, and open in another window) you will see why this is so important a mistake.

  • when at the Met’s website, click under “catalogue entry” for the painting’s full history

William, who was a GREAT CHUM of Edward Austen, was the son of the Rev William Heathcote, vicar of Worting. Jane Austen knew the Heathcotes well; little William’s mother was the former Elizabeth Bigg, daughter of Lovelace Bigg-Wither. Elizabeth returned to her parental home following the early death of her husband. Jane Austen was friendly with all the Bigg sisters of Manydown.

The painter, William Owen, exhibited the work in 1806.

The fascinating part of the history is what happened in 2012 – just two years ago – when a descendent gave the museum access to family history and, based on birth dates, the Met re-evaluated the sitters.

The Heathcote pictures (yes, in the PLURAL) were sold off in the 1930s, by a distant relation who had inherited the baronetcy (as mentioned, Edward Austen’s friend was the 5th baronet). As the website says, the extensive collection “constituted a rather comprehensive record of the appearance of succeeding generations from the late seventeenth century until shortly after 1800“. Breaks my heart to read of families divesting themselves of The Old Family Portraits – but without such divestment these would not be found online now…

Owen’s work has great charm, in the rusticity of the scene presented.

I forgot to mention: William Heathcote’s first wife was Caroline Perceval, daughter of the 2nd Baron Arden — who was related to the Comptons of Castle Ashby (ie, Emma Austen’s Aunt and Uncle Northampton). So, in a way, William “married into the family” even before Edward Austen did! (He and Emma Smith married on 16 December 1828.)

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Award-Winning Emma Smith

June 23, 2014 at 10:12 pm (people, portraits and paintings, research) (, , )

While looking for something completely different I unearthed a startling revelation about “Aunt Emma”: When still a very young girl, she won a GOLD MEDAL for DRAWING:

transactions_Emma1

transactions_Emma3

Joshua Smith’s household, when in London, lived at 29 Great George Street, Westminster – this simply has to be the same person, his youngest daughter.

From the few pieces I have seen, Emma did indeed have a great talent for drawing – and a great enjoyment of it, for she filled many albums. Is this copy of Veronese’s “Woman taken in Adultery” somewhere among them?

In 1790, she would have been just Sweet Sixteen.

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Lady Jersey: “Setting her Cap”

March 13, 2014 at 6:30 pm (diaries, entertainment, fashion, history, people, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

Have been inhabiting the “Beau Monde” world of the 1790s, and am thoroughly enjoying myself! After having my internet connect down for a week (severe withdrawal symptoms…), I’m now able to cast about for information on one name that turned up: Lady Jersey.

lady jersey

There are several ‘depictions’ of the notorious lover of the Prince of Wales, who evidently honored the lady with his attentions for nearly a decade (1793-1799), at the National Portrait Gallery – by Gillray. “A Lady putting on her cap” (detail above) was published in June 1795. The British Museum gives a nicely-minute description of the scene and some of the “symbolism”. A (short) discussion of the print occurs in the 1848 book England Under the House of Hanover (vol 2).

MY interest in Lady Jersey (née Frances Twysden; AKA Frances Villiers) comes from a letter, which indicates that the Prince of Wales pressed to have Mrs Drummond Smith invite Lady Jersey to one of her soirées in 1797. The hostess was not interested. Oh! for more Smith & Gosling tales along that line!

For inquiring minds, I include two blogs that make mention of Lady Jersey:

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Mystery portrait ID’ed: Queen Elizabeth I

February 18, 2014 at 2:27 am (british royalty, estates, fashion, news, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , )

Back in November 2013 I ran a lengthy post, hoping to ID a portrait which was a focal piece in a drawing – possibly sketched by eldest sister Augusta Smith – of some room that was wholly unidentified.

mystery lady and deer

click photo to read original post

In trying to find information about the ceiling medallions in Tring Park’s drawing room (still in situ!), I found this Hertfordshire website that I’m sure I have read before. Only, last evening, it took on new meaning! The description is all about Drummond Smith’s Tring Park, c1802:

The apartments are handsomely furnished, and in several of them there are some good paintings, among which we cannot avoid noticing a singular whole length of Queen Elizabeth, which hangs in the small drawing-room upon the right of the hall. This painting is not improbably a copy of that by Zucchero, which hangs in the palace at Kensington….

In my original post I was hoping against hope that it might have been a family member. BUT: I’ve now found an image of that very “singular whole length” portrait!

queen elizabeth

Major OMG!

Several books, like this one from 1802, describe the painting, identifying it as a Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, and one among several full-length portraits owned by Drummond (Emma’s great uncle; it is his baronetcy that Charles Joshua Smith, Emma’s eldest brother, inherited). Rather than Kensington Palace, its home is Hampton Court. But even this portrait carries some mystery: fascinating article by Francis Carr (a companion page can be read here).

So much is up for grabs: the portrait’s sitter – its artist – the date it was done. But my mystery has been solved: The room at Tring which once contained the portrait in the sketch being described as “the small drawing room upon the right of the hall.”

faces of QEI

NB: In looking for confirmation that it is indeed a portrait of QEI, I found this fab array of portraits:

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Portriats / Costume Database: The Portrait Project

January 29, 2014 at 2:42 am (entertainment, fashion, history, portraits and paintings) (, , , , )

Breaking news of a terrific website:

portrait project

If you’re like me, you might look at a portrait and wish you could “date” it; or, you might wish to know what costume looked like, say, in 1817. This database will help! A lot of “famous” faces, and you’ll soon begin to recognize certain “famous” artists, too. But what a wealth of well-arranged, early to navigate information & images!

There’s even a “History Timeline” which lays out a what-happened-when series of happenings, compositions or world events. For instance, if you see 1813’s mention of JANE AUSTEN’S PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and wish to see what portraits looked like from c1813, simply click on the link – et voilà!

Artwork represented comes from many nations and time periods; portraits are nicely ID’ed.

Highly recommended.

Lady Milner_vienna

Lady Milner

George_IV

George_IV

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Robert Gosling: 200 Years ago TODAY

January 27, 2014 at 6:09 am (a day in the life, diaries, history, news, people, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , , )

Reading through the first chapter of my book (those purchasing Two Teens in the Time of Austen: Random Jottings, 2008-2013 get a slightly-stale taste of that opening chapter) I was submerged into Mary’s world via her 1814 trip to Oxford when I read aloud the following:

“Two of Mr. Gosling’s four sons resided in college in 1814: William Ellis, the eldest of the seven Gosling children, only weeks beyond his twentieth birthday; and Robert, one year younger. William had entered Brasenose College on 10 July 1812, and seems to have taken no degree. Robert was fairly new to college, having matriculated on 27 January 1814. He stayed through 1822, leaving with a Master’s degree.”

January 27th?! I long have had Monday in mind as “Mozart’s birthday” (you can always tell when the anniversary of that day approaches: the local radio station plays a LOT of Mozart!). But reading my little history, I found myself whispering to myself: two hundred years ago to the day…

I have been lucky enough (thank you Mark & Emma!!) to see a portrait of all three Gosling boys – William, Robert and Bennett – painted some few years later. What a handsome trio! Though, in some ways, the most “pleasing” countenance can be said to belong to Robert. As a toddler he was compared to Falstaff for his roundness; as an old man in a long-exposed photograph he reminded this American of Abraham Lincoln: long, lean, and wearing a stove-pipe hat!

But two-hundred years ago TODAY, on 27 January 1814, Robert Gosling, a young man, had matriculated at Christ College, Oxford — and that summer his sister Mary wrote down the trip her family (“Mama, Papa, my Sister and myself”) took in order to visit the boys. That wasn’t the first diary of hers that I read, but ultimately it has so-far become the earliest of her writings that I have found.

christ church college

    • Did the “Great Hall” of Christ Church College really serve as inspiration for HOGWARTS HALL? Mary was there… and left her thoughts: “The Hall is one of the most magnificent in Oxford.” (and I remember that scene in the first film, vividly)

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